Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

Swaziland: Laws and customs in Swaziland regarding polygamy

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 9 March 2000
Citation / Document Symbol SWZ33991.E
Reference 5
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Swaziland: Laws and customs in Swaziland regarding polygamy, 9 March 2000, SWZ33991.E, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Under Swaziland law, "polygamy is legal, though rarely practised because of the high cattle dowries required of the husband for new brides." But the polygamous mentality is deeply ingrained (Africa News 16 Feb. 2000). In late 1999, 18.5 per cent of Swaziland's population of one million was infected with the AIDS virus (AP 27 Sept. 1999).

King Mswati III of Swaziland has "seven wives, has recently been betrothed to another and is entitled to continue adding to his collection in the annual dance of bare-breasted maidens" (London Times 19 Feb. 2000). A reporter who questioned the wisdom of not testing his seventh fiancée for AIDS was reportedly arrested and charged with defamation (AP 27 Sept. 1999).

Polygamy makes women "legal minors" as they cannot borrow money from the banks without their husband's permission nor can they register land in their names (PANA 2 Dec. 1999). Although married women are supposed to own their own land, fields and houses, the land is allocated by the husband after marriage as "chiefs are bound by custom not to allocate land to women" (ibid.).

A representative of the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Trust attributes women's problems in Swaziland to the "duality" of the legal system. Swaziland, she explains "is governed by the common law, based on Roman-Dutch law and the unwritten Swazi customary law administered by the Swazi courts, with practices placing women in a disadvantageous position" (PANA 6 Mar. 2000). This information is corroborated by Country Reports 1999 which states that,

The dualistic nature of the legal system complicates the issue of women's rights. Since traditional marriage is governed by uncodified law and custom, women's rights often are unclear and change according to where and by whom they are interpreted. Couples often marry in both civil and

traditional ceremonies, creating problems in determining which set of rules applies to the marriage and to subsequent questions of child custody and inheritance in the event of divorce or death. In traditional marriages, a man may take more than one wife. A man who marries a woman under

civil law legally may not have more than one wife, although in practice this restriction sometimes is ignored (Feb. 2000).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Africa News. 16 February 2000. James Hall. "Swaziland: Giving Aids Sufferers a Loving Bye HIV/AIDS." (Africa News/NEXIS)

Associated Press (AP). 27 September 1999. "Arrested Swazi Editor Released on Bail After Article on Royal Fiancée." (NEXIS)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 1999 2000. United States Department of State.

Panafrican Agency (PANA). 6 March 2000. "Amidst Inequality, Swazi Women Have Nothing to Celebrate."

_____. 2 December 1999. "Joel Chipungu. "Cry for Land Reform in Southern Africa." (Africa News/NEXIS)

The Times [London]. 19 February 2000. Michael Dynes. "Lesotho's King Vows to Stop at one Wife." (NEXIS)

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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